tv Tavis Smiley WHUT August 10, 2011 8:30am-9:00am EDT
[captioning made psible by kcet public television] tavis: good evening from los angeles, a conversation with long-time environmental advocate, robt earth kennedy junior, and his fight over coal in this country. the film is called "the last mountain," which made its debut at the sun dance fill am festival. and like his father, robert kennedy junior has never shied away from tackling hlps all u live better.
>> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley with every question and every answer, nationwide is proud to join tavis to literacy and empower one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: pleased to welcome robert kennedy junior to our program. he has dealt his life to environmental issues including the fight over coal. he has featured a new documentary about coal which is called "the last mountain" playing in theaters in select
theaters. >> we are cutting down the ap lashian mountains literally. >> absolutely gigantic. >> blowing the tops off the mountain to get at the coal. >> coal is sort of a layer of cake, layer of coal, lake of rock, layer of coal, lack of rock and keep this proce up until they reduce the mountain to rubble. >> they detonated explosives every day. and explosive power the size of a hiroshima bomb once a week. tavis: this documentary is about coal, but at the center of this documentary, sits an uncomfortable conversation in this country that we have to have about corporations versus democracy or put another way,
when corporations take over the space that democracy ought to occupy. talk to me about that battle between corporations and democracy in this country beyond just coal. >> you put your finger on it. that's what this movie is about. ap latchian and particularly west virginia is the template when corporations take over democracy. it's a company town. what they are doing is illegal. in fact, they have -- if you filled 25 feet of aud hn river, you would be in jail. if you blew up a mountain in the dca jail or a place for the na imilly insane. they have blownhe utp i 500 biggest mountains in west virginia in the last 10 years and it's all legal. they have buried 2,500 miles of rivers and streams. that's illegal. you can't do it.
in fact, i debated on west virginia tv a year ago, don enship who is the head of the biggest mountaintop removal company, i said by your records you had violations against the clean water act. over the past five years, you had tens of thousands of violations of labor laws, mining safety laws, is it possible for you to make a profit without violating a law? and he said no. he said they are silly laws. he acknowledged his company is a criminal enterprise and business plan is to break the law and in order to do that you have to subvert democracy. if you go to west virginia, democracy essentially doesn't exist. if you are a property owner, you have no right to stop corporations from raining boulders, poisoning your children and wells, drying up your streams. you don't have the right to
participate in local democracy, which is the fundamental zoning laws and planning laws. in west virginia, you can't zone out these kinds of corporate activities. the transparency has disappeared in government, which is the hallmark of democracy. the agencies that are supposed to protect the west virginia public have become the instrumentialities for the companies they are supposed to regulate and the judiciary and virtually every elected public official has been corrupted by big coal. 2/3 of the people in west virginia want to see mountaintop removal banned and this is what happens when corporations take over government. you see the tea party out here saying big government is a big threat to democracy and i agree with that. i agree. when we have a government that
tortures bill, suspends our bill of rights and says bill of rights is a luxury we can't afford anymore and whisks american citizens out of the country to places that torture them and eeves drop on hundreds of people, that is a threat to democracy. but the biggest threat comes from unleashed corporate power. and the domination of business by government is called communism. domination of government by business is called fascism. and that form of government -- our job is to walk that narrow trail in between and hold big business with our right hand and big corporation and to do that, we need an independent press that is willing to stand up and speak truth to power and inform
the public and we need an informed public that can recognize all the milestones of tyranny and we don't have any of those things left. tavis tavis you -- daff tavis: you said a lot. i'm playing devil's advocate, what you just described in west virginia, it can't be legal. it can't be illegal because it's happening and it can't be illegal because you have a documentary about it. how do you run this story to me which you have run brilliantly about what is happening in west virginia and tell me it's illegal. if it is illegal, it wouldn't be happening. >> don blanchen ship he had 67,000 violations of the clean water act. the enforcement has never given him a penny in fines and he has
thousands of other violations that other agencies he has been able to disable the agencies that are supposed to implement democracy in this country. it can be illegal under the law. but it's not -- he can get away with it. and his business plan is to violate the law and get away with it. and you know, what we ought to look at today is that what happens when corporations take over democracy, everything becomes a commodity. you see in this film -- you know, they say, the coal industry brings prosperity to west virginia, but it doesn't. it is emptying west virginia of its people. the plan is to depopulate the countryside. they have reduced the number of miners. when my father started talking strip mining bcka inck the 19 i60,'s remember a conversation i hadwithim h where he said, this is the
richest state in the country if you look at the resources and land. but the poorest people after the state of mississippi, the 49th poorest people in the count tr i . why is that? they have stolen the resources from the people in the state. they aren't just destroying the environment but i am pofferishing the economy and no way you can regenerate the economy and they are doing it so they can break the unions and that's what they are doing in west virginia. when he told me there were coal miners digging tunnels, there are fewer 15,000. nine of 10 jobs have been removed but taking the twice amount of coal. the only difference is back then, most of the large amount of that wealth is being left in the state for salaries and today it goes straight up to wall
street. tavis: sadly your father didn't make it to the white house but a guy named calvin coolidge and one of the most famous lines is the business of america is business. since when has america not been a corporation? one can argue and i will say it again, that america was a corporation before it was a country. i hear the points you are making, but since america hasn't been a business? >> you are a cynical man and i understand what you are saying, but i see there has been a tension between the idealism that created our first democracy in the history of mankind. at the time of the civil war, there were six democracies on the face of the planet, but today there are 120 and they have been inspired by american
exceptionalism. but we made a ton of mistakes but created a model for human beings governing themselves with institutions of justice and by the creation of informed public and the middle class and all of these things are the components of a good democracy. we lost our democracy in the guilded age in the 1880's and 1890's. they had trusts, steel trusts, oil trusts, sugar trusts, john d. rockefeller, richest man in the history of the world and it was said about him that he had done everything to the pennsylvania state legislature except for refine it. the legislatures were literally owned by the corporations and they chose the senators. so the senate was owned by corporations. and you know, warren harding in 1921, when there was union strikes in west virginia, 10,000
union workers, he asked the united states air force to drop bombs on them. and he was in the pocket of the coal industry. that's what happened. we lost our democracy. how did it get restored? a few really courageous journalists who are doing what you are doing today, like sinclaire and you had politicians back then, teddy roosevelt, who was willing to stand up to what he called the benefactors of great wealth and put the bit into the mouths -- they passed a graduated income tax that forced corporations to pay their fair share. they passed union laws and allowed unions to organize which created the middle class in this country and created the prosperity and stability that made american democracy the envy
of the world and they created drerkt election of senators and they created in 1907, a law they passed that forbade corporate contributions to federal political candidates. and that law has been in place for 100 years. now we have a supreme court -- it's not a right-wing supreme court. there is no coherent philosophy. the only coherent philosophy, the corporations always win. if it is government against an individual, the government wins. if it is corporations against an individual, the corporations win. if it is corporation against the government, corporations win. show me one exception in any decision written by that supreme court. and last year, they repealed this 100-year-old law and made
it legal for the first time in a century for corporations to flood our deral political campaigns with a tsunami of money and that is the beginning of the end. and it was said, a journalist can't tell the dive between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. well, that decision is the end of civilization in this country. and we have spending the last year talking about charlie sheehann and brittany spears instead of talking about huge corporate money which is going to put corporations in the driver seat. tavis: talk to me what the media ought to be doing that they are not, to inform the people. >> people talk about the liberal media but there is no such thing. you have a couple of people on msnbc. this show, which i wouldn't call liberal. these are journalists who are telling the truth and they are
branded and marginalized for telling the truth and same with pbs. pbs was not a left-wing ideology. air america was, but pbs was not. anybody hotels the truth is branded and marginalized. the devolution of the american press back in 1986 when ronald reag abandoned the fairness doctrine. we had a law that was passed in 1928 that said the air waves belong to the public. and they are licensed only if they inform the public and advance democracy. that's why we have a 6:00 news. they didn't want it. the broadcasters didn't want that because the news departments were chronic money losers but were forced to put on the news at 6:00. and you hear news on the music radio stations and that is part
of the fairness doctrine. they said if you are using the broadcast air waves, you have to do that. you have to avoid corporate consolidation and that was the other rule. you had to have diversity of control from all over. and that provision was actually strengthened after 1944 by congress because they saw what hitler had done in europe. hitler in 1921, nazi party had a 1% approval rating, but then they made these deals with the media and alliances with large chemical companies, and a number of others and all of a sudden, they exploded and they were able to do that because of the media and because of mergers and acquisitions and licensing agreements they made with the media. we can't let that happen here. we have to have a lot of different corporations controling. today as a result of reagan's changes, reagan abottle issued
the fairness doctrine in 1988 which helped him get re-elected and take over am radio. and the big studio heads helped him get re-elected. now you have five giant corporations that control over 14,000 radio stations in our country, 2,200 tv stations, 80% of our newspapers, all of our billboards and large content providers. five guys are deciding what you hear as news. they no longer has an obligation to serve the public interest but to their shareholders. they don't tell us things we need to understand, but by entertaining us. they appeal to the interests that all of us have in the brains, so we are the best
entertained and least informed people on the world and got rid of their investigating reporters, 85% of them lost their jobs. rid their foreign news bureaus and the bush and cheney administration can say, we are going to go into this fist fight and meet us with rose petals in the streets. the americans believe them. fox news can't go to canada. illegal to lie on the air in canada. so fox news can't go there. and in england, they have the same kind of rules and in europe. but in our country, we lost those rules and as a result, we know a lot about brittany spears gradual emotion decline and charlie sheehan and don't know about global warming. so much of the media is really
dependent on corporate money. air america failed not because it wasn't popular. in every jurisdiction where it was operating, it was beating right-wing radio. and there was a huge appetite. it couldn't get advertising. the oil companies, the biggest advertisers, pharmaceutical companies, which 70% of the revenue for news shows on tv is pharmaceutical companies. and so it is very hard to criticize them on the news. automobile companies, which is the other big player and other -- these companies wouldn't advertise. they boycotted air america. air america was reliant o'hare growth products and this kind of stuff and scrambling for money and couldn't find it and it killed them. so it's hard to find right now
-- msnbc is a good place to go, this show and then there are a few other "rolling stone qul magazine and "vanity fair" have great investigative reporters and there are places that people go on the internet and find this stuff but it's not well organized. tavis: when i go to the internet, i can bet you all the money i have, i'm going to get a litany of people who watch you and say you are so knowledgeable and so passionate and so committed, you have that legacy to build upon and you are doing it in your own way. but with all of this, why not elective office because so many others in your family have seen that as a platform to address the issues you are concerned about? >> i have looked at doing elective office many, many times. and i have family issues, six young kids and they are now
older and i would look at that kind of opportunity now and if i thought i could be more effective there, i would do it. but it's hard these days to have -- to make that choice, because even looking at the senate, one point, i had the opportunity when david patterson was in there to get that senate seat in new york and i looked at it and washington, d.c., in many ways is paralyzed. in a way we never seen it before. and i have so many friends in the senate and congress who are frustrated because they feel like they are wasting their lives up there. there is no real changes. and obama hit the same wall. and obama wanted to change things and he hit a wall of corporate money of coal mining and tried to pass the cap and trade system, pharmaceutical
money when he passed the obamacare and got watered down into a much less economical program. republicans made it that way. he wanted a single-payer plan and that's what we have with medicare which actually works. it's a quarter of the cost. he hit that wall of money and i think in washington, d.c., -- the stuff -- the places where i'm most active these days is at the state governments because at the states there is freedom for innovative governors to get programs. tavis: i agree in everything you said tonight about the devolution of our culture and dekay of our civilization, but i know you to be a hopeful person and optimistic, but you have been a hopeful person. with all that you said up tonight, what makes you hopeful?
>> martin luther king said the tools of advocacy was education and i would add innovation and we are seeing innovation in the energy space, which is going to help us have our energy system and take it away from big coal, not because of legislation on capitol hill but because solar and wind can deliver cheaper. one of the companies i'm involved in is bright source and building a plant in the desert. we are building it in three years and 10 years to build a coal plant, 30 years to build a nuclear power plant. same as a coal plant, 1/5 the cost of a nuclear plant. it is free energy forever. all we have to do is pick it up.
the sun isn't going to stop shining and costs cheaper to iltd tha h plant. once you build the coal or oil plant, now you have to go to saudi arabia and punch holes in the ground, bow down to local sheiks and hated by their own people and getting periodic wars, ship it across the atlantic with military escort we pay for it, spill it all over the gulf, burn the oil and poison everybody in our country. the big costs happen after you build that plant. we are -- we have 500 gigawatts and to replace is $1.5 trillion. two years of oil exports, of the export of u.s. cash to bring in
oil. we can pay for a whole system that gives us free energy for ever. and despite the efforts of the incumbents, these are on the tipping point and i'm watching it on the ground and gives me a tremendous amount of hope. tavis: i love this guy and you can see why. his latest project is called "the last mountain." i'm always honored to have you on our program. thank you for what you're doing. wow! that's our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> for more information on today's show, visitou help us ae
better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley, with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis to improve financial literacy and empair one conversation at a time. nationwide is your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.